What it's about:
After finally landing a stable, great paying job in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, Katie Victor’s world crumbles when her pastoral dream job morphs into a Salvador Dali landscape. She quickly discovers that her boss, the occasionally beautiful Felissa Sorbet, is actually a cutthroat schemer in four-inch heels with a history of abusing and destroying her assistants. Worse yet, after trying to switch law firms, Katie finds herself entrapped by Felissa’s successful efforts to sabotage her professionally. Pushed to the emotional breaking point, Katie’s personal life begins to disintegrate when death strikes suddenly and close to home. As her mind begins to teeter between her brutal reality and visions that the only way out is to murder Felissa, she is left with a dilemma, and a solution that will change her forever.
How to Kill a Lawyer is the story of Katie’s journey from the darkness of grief and revenge to the surprising strength that she finds inside her wounded self. It is The Devil Wears Prada seen through the glass doors of a John Grisham high rise.
An Excerpt From My Novel
How To Kill a Lawyer
ON THE MARCH
It was time to go. I took a deep breath and slipped on my sneakers. Then, with steady hands, I locked my desk and powered down my computer, snapping off the overhead light and arranging pending items in a neat stack. Hesitating only briefly, I patted the papers once for good measure. Breezing past reception, the cacophony of multiple incoming calls rang loudly in my ears, the noise distracting Rachel as I glided past her to the bank of elevators. Soon the office would be in chaos, a mixture of shock and, for some, perverse delight as the realization of events took hold.
I punched the down button and forced myself to hold still, not indulging the desire to tap my foot while waiting for the machine to climb its way up to the twenty-third floor. Inside the elevator, a handful of caffeine-starved companions accompanied me as they headed to Starbucks for their morning fix. I focused on my feet as a knot in my stomach began to form, and tried to distract myself by counting the dings that indicated each passing floor. As more people joined us, their warm bodies filled the small space, sucking up the limited air. When the doors finally slid open at ground level, I ducked to avoid eye contact with Bernie the security guard and any incoming coworkers who might question my early exit. Having successfully departed the office, I dodged the crowds of early shoppers and late employees who filled the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco at nine forty-five on a crisp October morning.
Once outside, my head cleared. But a half block ahead, I saw them. Sliding abruptly in front of the waiting taxis, a dark blue Crown Victoria came to a stop and nudged against the curb with a short screech of tires, followed by another pulling up in front of the first. The sedans settled into the red zone before cutting their engines. Two men exited the first car, joined by three more leaving the second. All were dressed similarly, wearing light colored button-down shirts, striped ties and dark slacks. What appeared to be windbreakers poofed out over their sport coats. Holding myself steady and attempting a casual stroll, I moved beside them, catching a slight whiff of Brut cologne. I turned my head after they passed and watched the group head toward Embarcadero Four, matching strides, looking remarkably tall and fit. All five held their bodies stiffly as they marched into an office full of soon-to-be gossip-hungry employees, eager as always for drama.
Moving down the MUNI subway entrance, my heart sprinted as I shuffled down the stairs to wait for the N-Judah train. I lowered my wobbly legs to the concrete bench, relieved to have distance between me and the scene starting to break open on the twenty-third floor of Embarcadero Four.
On the MUNI platform, the overhead electronic sign indicated the N-Judah train wouldn’t reach me for another twelve minutes. Twelve minutes.
TWO YEARS EARLIER
PLEASE DRESS ACCORDINGLY
My story begins in July of 1992 when a cash deficit drove me to answer a Help Wanted ad in the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper advertised that Richards & Reed, a small patent law firm, needed a secretary trainee. Surprisingly, that person turned out to be me, even though I was unqualified for even a novice position. I’d never before heard the term “intellectual property,” and it hadn’t occurred to me that ideas could be bought and sold like possessions. But that’s how things worked in U.S. patent law.
I hadn’t planned to be a secretary trainee. As a kid, I pictured myself working on the front lines with Greenpeace. I longed to launch from the Rainbow Warrior and ride the rigid inflatables, positioning myself between deadly harpoons and defenseless whales. Unfortunately, when it came time to actually seek employment, the reality of such an adventure overwhelmed me and I eventually abandoned the idea, terrified of the risk. Having thwarted my sea-faring mission, I turned to the Peace Corps, where I hoped to teach conversational English to children in underdeveloped countries. But fear of commitment, anxiety about living so far from home, and lack of a college degree nixed that idea. So, forsaking a peace-themed career, I sought out a low-risk desk job in order to fulfill my humanitarian instincts.
This landed me in a non-profit organization called A Leg Up, where I dropped softly into an office of like-minded do-gooders. Here, I trained alongside case managers who provided support and guidance for our clients, making a safe nest for myself while helping the disabled get on their feet as they learned to live and work within the community rather than institutions.
Over time, though, the environment ate away at my emotional and physical energy. Lack of resources for clients and the lamentable reality of low social work pay, plus persistent unpaid overtime on evenings and weekends set in motion a rethinking of my altruistic standards. Between repaying student loans and back taxes, my bank account never made it to black, and I barely had money for running shoes and cat food. Close to broke and painfully disillusioned, I reluctantly stepped away from my charitable existence for a chance at a new career and a better financial future in the legal world. Sadly, a legal trainee made almost twice the salary I was making training in social work with an office of twenty idealists. I’d found an opportunity too good to pass up. So I didn’t.
Noting that hindsight makes the past obvious, and looking back on my fundamental values, this choice of money over principles may have been my first big mistake.
I came upon the legal world through the suggestion of a friend. Ready to dive in with enthusiasm, my disappointment with one glaring issue gnawed at me from the start: the title. Along with being a peace-seeker, I’d also been a feminist for as long as I could remember. Calling myself a “secretary” gave me a headache and made me grind my teeth even during the day. I couldn’t shake the ‘60s image of the hot secretary in the tight skirt and heels bringing java to the boss. Lucky for me, patent secretaries were different animals. Rarely expected to answer an attorney’s phone, make travel arrangements or complete expense reports (and certainly never ever get coffee), the position was more like an administrative trade with a special skill set and knowledge base. Convincing myself that my actual job looked nothing like the cliché, in the end I surrendered, accepting the name and calculating that the money and benefits were worth accepting an offensive label. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if that subservient 60’s image lay buried in the minds of the attorneys and partners for whom we worked.
Setting aside my ambivalence, five days a week, I caught the San Francisco MUNI train and smiled “good morning” to the residents and merchants as the trolley rattled from the Ocean Beach avenues to the high-rise towers in the Financial District. Dressed in my secretary’s uniform, dark skirt, colorful blouse, sheer black hose, and sneakers, I carried my heels, lunch, purse, and a book in my backpack, along with an extra pair of stockings “just in case.” Giddy inside and excited to be working side-by-side with smart attorneys, I bounced into this new world like Mary Tyler Moore, sans hat. While our lawyers were no Atticus Finch or Perry Mason, they drafted patents that fought—and sometimes won—the intellectual property (IP) wars at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In addition, I was delighted to learn that Albert Einstein had been a patent examiner!
The Richards & Reed (R&R) patent boutique filled a large suite tucked inside a prominent skyscraper on the twenty-seventh floor at One Post Street, just off the Powell Street subway station. Soft leather chairs and cream colored Berber carpeting, along with deep rosewood desks and bookshelves all combined to create a warm atmosphere, cloaked in mystery by the San Francisco fog. We were a cozy hideaway showing off a postcard view, with a conference room directly facing the Transamerica Pyramid.
Stimulated by the downtown bustle, I made good use of my rare spare time by abandoning my secretary façade and jogging north to Jack Kerouac Alley, where I paid silent homage to the ghostly residue of the beat generation, amazed to be standing on the streets the poets walked. Closing my eyes and concentrating, I was able to rise above the smell of urine, cigarettes and half-full beer bottles that threatened to take over the spirit of the alley. There, in the middle of the workday where a few blocks away I’d been surrounded by lawyers, I was instantly transported in time, feeling the presence of Jack Kerouac himself, “Does kittykat know there's a pigeon on the clothes closet?” This cat was definitely aware and had the pigeon in hand.